Blessed Hildegard and the Profiling of Cheese

“Cheese without a rind is like a maiden without shame.” — Italian proverb

To prove that I’m serious, uncomfortably serious,* my first post-proper will take for its subjects two real, reeking, purchasable cheeses — one an Italian classic, the other an American fledgling. It will be my first entry into the “Cheese Profiles” category. It will head the magnificent parade to come. But first, a preface, and an epigraph for the nascent category — as I hope to plant epigraphs wherever I can —


My “Cheese Profiles,” god bless them, are intended to resemble those standard summaries that comprise most of the cheese-resources I’ve encountered: a few brief words about the cheese’s geographical and historical origin, a few more about the mode of production, then a visual description and some tasting notes. Usually there’s a picture. I’m not sure if mine will have pictures yet; but they will have everything else and more. I suppose there’s a spirit behind this practice that has something to do with contemporary “organic” movements and the notion that you might be better off, or healthier, or more ethical or self-actualized the more you know about what you eat. There’s also a spirit of cosmopolite connoisseurship budding in the States that honors the cultivation evident in wellspoken, knowledgeable diners. (Another day I’ll have to compare and contrast, in middleschool style, these sometimes competing, sometimes cooperating American food cultures, as they play out in places like fancy cheese shops.) At the very least, if you’re desperate for purpose, after reading “Cheese Profiles” you’ll have another means of drawing attention to yourself in conversation.

Instead of aligning myself with contemporaries of either camp, or with recent political trends (“It’s COOL to know your food”), I’d prefer today to take up with a perspective more anachronistic, an authority long dead and gone, somebody with that venerable contemptus mundi** that keeps me so cheerful. Today the explanation I’ll provide for writing any “Cheese Profile” at all — as though explanation were needed — will draw upon the Benedictine nun and mystic Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) — aka Hildegardis Bingensis, Blessed Hildegard, Saint Hildegard, Sybil of the Rhine, Hildegard of Bingen — famous for her hymns and visions. In a letter to Daniel, Bishop of Prague, St. Hildegard once wrote,

“The voice of life and salvation says: Why will a person chew on a grape and still wish to remain ignorant of the nature of that grape?”

As everyone knows, Hildegard was writing typologically of the grape that Noah planted after the Deluge dried up — the grape that started the vineyard that led to Noah’s famed drunken nudity (Gen 9:18-27). There’s a lot of theological material there, and trust, gentle reader, that it rends my soul to skip over all the possible sermonizing*** and tedious digressing — but the principle stripped bare is all we need here; so I’ll shuffle to the punchline, taking the Voice of Life and Salvation for my own and asking,

“Why will a person eat of some cheese and still wish to remain ignorant of the nature of that cheese?”

That should be enough for an epigraph. End preface. (There will be more on St. Hildegard later, when I write about the age-old analogy between cheesemaking and babymaking.)

So I’ve digressed, unsalvageably. That promised post on Taleggio and Grayson will have to follow in the next installment.

* “That has been my disease. I was born grave as others syphilitic.”
** Please do examine that link, with sensitive attention to the chosen bible verse.
*** Go here to read Henry Smith’s late 16th C. sermon on Noah’s drunkenness, “a glass wherein all drunkards may behold their beastliness.”

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